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But Army officers also have begun voicing concern that they are soon going to run out of Reserve troops to fight in Iraq, which would place even more strain on active-duty forces. Under Pentagon policy, reservists and Guard troops can serve no more than 24 months total on a single military operation. The military has already released some Reserve troops from deployment because they have hit the 24-month ceiling--or offered them a $1,000 monthly tax-free bonus to waive the rule. That money upsets Helmly. "We must consider the point at which we confuse 'volunteer to become an American soldier' with 'mercenary,'" he wrote in his memo. In light of the force crunch, the Army is weighing a change that could compel repeated deployments, of up to 24 months each, for some part-time soldiers.
That, however, would probably complicate recruitment challenges for the Reserves. As it is, says Paul Rieckerhoff, 29, a New York Guardsman who spent a year in Iraq, the Guard has lost its allure as repeated deployments have made it more like the active-duty force. "People in the Guard never thought they'd make up 40% of the force [in Iraq] and have six months of training and a year of boots-on-the-ground overseas," he says. "It's become a serious commitment that's going to disrupt your civilian life indefinitely."
Hard statistics back up Rieckerhoff's observation. The National Guard saw its enlistments fall 30% short of its goal for October and November, while the Army Reserve came up 10% shy of its mark for that period. As a result, the Guard is adding 1,400 recruiters to its 2,700-strong force, the first big boost in 15 years, while the Reserve is boosting its recruiter force by 400, to 1,440.
Recruiters have been given new sweeteners to dangle. The week before Christmas, the Guard and Army Reserve announced that the signing bonus for soldiers willing to commit to six years of service would be increased to $15,000--from $5,000 for the Guard and $8,000 for the Reserve. And although the active-duty Army has been meeting its recruitment goals, planners are taking precautions to keep the numbers healthy. The Army has added 375 soldiers to the ranks of its 5,654 recruiters. Active-duty G.I.s can now earn as much as $70,000 for college, up from $50,000. In outlays that won't show up as costs for the Iraq war, the Army is rolling out more than $1 billion in bonuses and benefits this year to induce young Americans to enlist and to entice those already in uniform to extend their service. There are premiums to be pocketed for signing up for certain jobs--infantry, military police, transportation--as well as for agreeing to ship out quickly to train--and then, probably, go to Iraq.